According to a report from The Hill, the IRS Criminal Investigation division announced it has uncovered more than $1.8 billion in fraud related to the trillions of dollars in COVID-19 pandemic relief funding the federal government has given out. According to the official source for government spending data, the federal government has committed to spending $4.2 trillion in response to the pandemic. $3.6 trillion of that money has already been paid out.
“These cases included a broad range of criminal activity, including fraudulently obtained loans, credits and payments meant for American workers, families, and small businesses,” The Hill quoted the IRS Criminal Investigation division as saying in a statement. Many of the cases are wire fraud cases in which people made false claims about their business or financial situation in order to obtain money.
Wednesday’s IRS announcement came on the same day The Associated Press released the results of a review they conducted on COVID-19 pandemic relief funding. The review found dozens of projects that state and local governments across the United States are funding with federal coronavirus relief money despite having little to do with combating the pandemic. These projects include:
- $400 million to build new prisons in Alabama.
- $140 million to build a high-end hotel in Broward County, Florida.
- Tens of millions of dollars for tourism marketing campaigns in Puerto Rico ($70 million), Washington, D.C. ($8 million) and Tucson, Arizona ($2 million).
- $12 million for renovations of a minor league baseball stadium in Dutchess County, New York.
- $6.6 million to replace irrigation systems at two golf courses in Colorado Springs.
The IRS findings come nearly a year after Attorney General Merrick Garland set up a task force to investigate COVID-19 pandemic relief funding fraud. Earlier this month, Garland appointed associate deputy attorney general Kevin Chambers as the chief prosecutor for pandemic fraud.
“We’re going to target large scale criminal organizations who are committing some of the largest and far ranging fraud, many of them using identity theft to victimize Americans who so needed this relief,” Chambers said earlier this month. “We’re also going to prioritize overseas actors who saw our government’s relief packages as an opportunity for personal gain.”